Interview: Alex Zalben (of Elephant Larry)
l to r, standing: Lawrence, Haggerty, Zalben and Solomon; seated,
The long-running New York sketch
comedy group Elephant Larry (previously featured
here, June 6, 2006) is performing
all-new shows of all-new material this year, having done a run at its
home base of the People’s Improv Theater in December 2007, and just
beginning another set of shows in May (9:30 p.m. Fridays, May 9 and 16),
with more planned for later in the year. The five-man group Alex Zalben,
Geoff Haggerty, Chris Principe, Stefan Lawrence, Jeff Solomon) draws
inspiration from Monty Python and Kids In The Hall, and is prolific at
making video shorts, but presents its newest sketches in a largely
minimalist fashion without a lot of elaborate costumes or sets. Jester
spoke with Zalben about the group’s latest show, as well as his own
endeavor, the Comic Book Club talk show (reviewed
April 24, 2007), continuing at The PIT 8 p.m. Tuesdays in May.
Jester: Tell me about the new Elephant Larry show that’s coming up.
Alex Zalben: It’s all new sketches, completely live -- no video or
anything like that -- and it’s all stuff that we’ve written completely
for this new show.
J: Any teasers you could give?
AZ: Whenever you say what the plot of a sketch is, it’s never as funny,
so you can’t give that out. Definitely there’s going to be some
ridiculous costumes and some not-so-ridiculous costumes. Sorry that’s
J: Has it been awhile since the group has been active?
AZ: No, we’ve been working a lot. We had the brand new show in December,
and pretty much we’ve been doing video stuff non-stop when we haven’t
been doing gigs here or there, or writing this new show like we’re doing
now. So we meet at least two times a week if not three or four times a
week, so we’re always doing stuff.
J: How do you keep things fresh, having worked together as a group since
AZ: The guys in the group are probably the funniest guys I’ve ever met.
As long as we keep making each other laugh, that’s how it stays fresh.
J: Will there be more or less pop culture references than before?
AZ: We never really drew a lot of pop culture references. Most of our
stuff -- timeliness is probably the wrong word -- but it comes down to
what we find funny, and the stuff we find funny is usually snowmen and
robots and vampires, and things like that, so there’s not a lot of
skewering of pop culture that goes on.
J: How has doing a lot of video changed your outlook or how you write
AZ: I don’t think so. Video is video and stage is stage, and there’s
sketches that belong on video that don’t belong on stage, and vice
versa. So if we’re writing something, now because we’re doing a lot more
video, we do a group check, asking if an idea is a video idea or a stage
idea. Whatever it is, that’s what we write it for.
J: What makes it go one way or another? Is it the setting or something
AZ: Something like a commercial sketch, if we can make it on video, we
just do that, unless it was specifically some sort of sketch about a
product that only occurs on stage. Otherwise, I don’t see any reason,
since a commercial is a filmic form, that you would do it any other way.
For the most part, with some sort of TV or movie parody type sketch, why
not do that on video?
We do a lot less video in this show than we usually do. We’ve been
moving toward, if we’re doing something on stage, just making it simple.
There’s no reason to over-complicate it with costumes. That said, we
write stuff like “wouldn’t it be hilarious if you were wearing this
gigantic thing?” But for the most part it’s jackets, a dress, that’s it
-- not necessarily at the same time.
J: Are there plans to do this material for awhile?
AZ: Right now we’re in a place where we’re just generating new material.
This show is supposed to be fun. We’re not playing around in a genre or
doing anything like that. We’re generating new material that we think is
really funny to us. It’s the same thing we did with our December show
and we’re looking to do at least one or two more of those before the
year is out. Just do a short run -- stuff we think is really funny -- to
see how it works on stage. We think it works really well on stage but
the audience will tell us. There’s not necessarily a goal beyond writing
some sketches and having some fun.
J: On another front, how did you get the idea for Comic Book Club?
AZ: Comic Book Club is something I thought about years ago. It was a
just a vague idea that it would be interesting to do a comic book talk
show. It was just that vague idea. I didn’t know how to put together
something -- something that I knew I couldn’t put together myself. When
I was working at The PIT [Zalben formerly was artistic director of the
theater], I knew Justin Tyler and Pete LePage from working there
separately, from sketch stuff and improv stuff. In the same week, they
each came in to chat with me holding a bag from Midtown Comics -- so it
was ‘are you guys comic book fans?’ They looked a little ashamed and
said yes. I said, ‘It’s O.K., I’m a comic book fan too.’ So I pitched
each of them on the idea of a comic book talk show -- I had just a vague
idea of it -- and they were immediately on board. We met later that week
to chat about what the format would be and three weeks later we did the
J: How long has that been running?
AZ: About a year and a half now, since December 2006.
J: Do you have other ideas or other projects going, or with Elephant
Larry and Comic Book Club, does that take up all your time?
AZ: Pretty much … Justin, Pete and I now have a web version of Comic
Book Club that we do, three times a week. That takes up a good chunk of
time as well. There’s also day jobs. But I really like doing Elephant
Larry and Comic Book Club. They’re two entirely different things so it’s
fun to do both of them.